Would coppice in Scotland’s SACs support threatened invertebrates? Part 2

Why trial coppice in an SAC as opposed to another woodland? Asks Ed Lewis, following from Part 1- ‘Would coppice in Scotland’s SACs support threatened invertebrates?’

Case Study

Taynish & Knapdale Woods (TKW) is a sessile Oak SAC within Argyll (NR 80722 86379). It contains ∼ 400 ha of broadleaved woodland, some of which has historically been used for coppice (SNH, 2010).

Neglected coppices are often of low biodiversity quality (Mason & MacDonalid, 2002), and TKW contains many species that would benefit from coppice, the rarest being the Marsh Fritillary, found in only three SACs in Scotland (JNCC, 2004). This robust knowledge of what inhabits SAC woodlands would make a trial of the efficacy of coppice more precise than using a private woodland not managed specifically for conservation. TKW is a Biosphere Reserve, designed to be a living laboratory for integrated management practices (SNH, 2007). The potential economic stimulus from coppice could create some resilience from external funding for conservation (Sanderson & Prendergast, 2002).

Coppice is strongly affected by over-grazing (Cooke & Farrel, 2001;Palmer, et al. 2004; Ratcliffe, 1992), and to be effective would require fencing. Furthermore, sessile Oak woods in particular support rare bryophytes and lichens. If undertaken at a small spatial scale (See Figure 4) the impacts of coppice have shown to be insignificant for lichens (Coppins, 2010; Giordon, 2012; Hodgson, et al. 2009). It has even shown to be beneficial to epiphytes (Humphrey, 2002), mammals (Gurnell, Hicks & Whitbread, 1992), birds (Amar, et al. 2006; Fuller & Rotherey, 2013; Hewson & Noble, 2008), and plants (Chaideftou, et al. 2011; Van Calster, et al. 2008).

This essay is not proposing coppice in all SAC woodlands, of Scotland’s ten woodland SAC categories, three have the correct species to coppice: Sessile Oak woods, Tilio – Acerion woods and Alnus – Fraxinus woods. These three form 33% of all of Scotland’s SACs. Of these, sessile oak woods, like TKW, are the most suitable, notwithstanding because they are on average 3542 ha, where a 10 ha coppice trial would have minimal disturbance.

coppicerotation (1)

Figure 4: Ten 1 ha stands would only require 2.5% of TKW’s deciduous woodland. An understorey of hazel with oak standards providing a 30% canopy and coppiced on a ten year rotation would be suitable (Harmer, 2004; Hernando, 2010). Using ten stands mean there is a gradual successional gradient for niche species, moving anticlockwise (red arrow).

Conclusion

In summation, coppicing creates the conditions to vastly diversify the UK BAP population of SAC woodlands, especially during the early rotation. Coppicing clearly disproportionately benefits specific clades, such as Lepidoptera, and the efficacy of coppice on butterfly conservation is seen as a major method of reducing species decline. Conservation coppice does not aim to create small wooded islands of exceptional diversity, but rather increase landscape scale biodiversity through increasing the heterogeneity of the woodland.

Using a ten year rotation, and a succession of stands means the distinct UK BAP species of each rotational stage can be supported. Invertebrates are also only one community of a larger ecosystem, there are UK BAP species of other clades, especially birds, that are also dependent on the conditions coppice creates. Coppice is a traditional woodland practice, not requiring much land, or management, with its feasibility being proven both in the UK and further abroad. The multi-faceted benefits, both ecological, social and economic make it theoretically very appealing in specific woodlands. This essay would conclude therefore, that it certainly warrants a trial in Scotland’s SACs.

Written by Edward Lewis, Univeristy of Edinburgh,

Cover Image: Gilles San Martin

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